China Week: Emissions, executions and broken dreams

US President Barack Obama is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping for a bilateral meeting in Saint Petersburg on 6 September, 2013 on the sidelines of the G20 summit Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Obama and Mr Xi are due to meet in Beijing soon

It's a full two weeks until Chinese President Xi Jinping hosts US President Obama in Beijing, but the Chinese news agenda already feels full of Americans.

In Hong Kong, there's Kenny G with or without sax and umbrella, and in Beijing there's Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg launching a charm offensive in valiant Mandarin.

But even when China's not directly talking to or about Americans, it's thinking about them.

And for China's chief ideologues, a lot of energy goes into being "not the United States".

'Broken American Dream'

For example, this week saw a new twist in an arcane ideological story set rolling by Mr Xi.

At a forum for artists and writers earlier this month, he lavished praise on a young blogger called Zhou Xiaoping for his "positive energy". Mr Zhou was once an admirer of all things American but then "awakened from this nightmare" after reading about a man stabbed to death on an American street.

Now he believes instead in China's "grand era" and his energies are focused on writing anti-American essays with titles like "Nine Knockout Blows in America's Cold War Against China". He has also accused the US of deploying the internet and Hollywood to poison Chinese civilisation.

And this week, China's censors have joined in with their own version of the knockout blow, deleting the social media accounts of a blogger called Fang Zhouzi who attempted to dismantle Mr Zhou's narrative of the "broken American dream".

Money talks

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US and Japan dominate the Asian Development Bank, China believes

It's 70 years since the US-led global financial order was established at Bretton Woods. And now China is getting ready to challenge it.

July saw the announcement of the Brics bank which will include Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa.

This week, China followed up with a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People to launch the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Asia needs infrastructure, China has capital and expertise. And it sees the existing Manila-based Asian Development Bank as too subservient to the objectives of the United States and Japan.

Beijing suspects Washington has been discouraging governments from signing up to its new regional bank, uneasy that the AIIB will reflect China's priorities and undermine US leadership in the region.

Both the suspicion and the unease are probably justified. Infrastructure investment in Asia is something China is about to transform.

Beyond ideology

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Coal-burning in China fell 1-2% in the first nine months of the year, Greenpeace said
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Will the fall in coal-burning lead to better air conditions across China?

Away from the things that divide, a story which everyone can celebrate.

The environmental group Greenpeace says that in the first three quarters of 2014, China's coal burning is 1-2% lower than a year earlier.

This contrasts with the 5-10% annual growth rate in coal consumption seen since the early years of the century.

China is the world's largest consumer of coal, its economy is still growing at over 7% and its power consumption is also growing, but crucially, it's growing more slowly and is going to feed high-tech manufacturing and the service sector rather than concrete and steel.

Greenpeace concluded that: "Economic growth in China is no longer leading automatically to higher coal consumption and CO2 emissions."

This is a glimmer of light in the smog for everyone on the planet and particularly for China's own citizens, who increasingly see the urban air quality index as a measure of government competence that transcends politics or ideology.

It's simply life and death.

Execution in numbers

Image copyright Yantai Intermediate People's Court
Image caption Earlier this month, a court handed down death sentences to two members of a Chinese cult

Talking about life and death, China never releases figures for the number of citizens it executes annually but US-based rights group Dui Hua has estimated that approximately 2,400 people in China were executed last year.

This is far fewer than in the 1980s and 90s, perhaps partly because all death sentences now have to go to the Supreme People's Court for review.

But Dui Hua said there was unlikely to be a dramatic decline in numbers in 2014 because of the use of capital punishment in anti-terrorism campaigns in Xinjiang and the anti-corruption campaign nationwide.

(Whether executing people has any deterrent effect in relation to either terrorist offences or corruption is open to debate, of course.)

Deterring animal torture

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A man rides alongside a camel and a horse on a busy street

Pictures of a mutilated camel in Fuzhou went viral this week (Warning: graphic content), provoking a discussion about whether beggars were deliberately mutilating animals to trigger sympathy donations from the public.

The men in the pictures claimed that they had rescued their camel after it had been run over by a train. But police said they may have hacked off the camel's hooves themselves.

And animal rights activists said people who give such beggars money were rewarding animal torture and that until China introduced meaningful legislation protecting animal rights, there was little anyone could do to prevent such atrocities in future.

So if you meet these men and this camel, or any other beggar with a mutilated animal, do not perpetuate the problem by handing over cash.

The challenge is finding a better way to help.

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